Express Tribune Opinions | July 5, 2020

Minus one? Why?

By Shahzad Chaudhry

The US’ presidential form of democracy is quite a system. Established for long now on the principle of efficient execution of authority with required checks and balances between the power wielders, it remains a model of democracy at its near best. So is perhaps the French model of democratic government and the mother of them all the British Parliamentary system. The American system elects a President for four years; the French give their government six years while the British have a five-year tenure.

It must have something to do with how efficiently and quickly can executive authority be brought to bear in execution of a government’s policies. The French share their power between two titular heads, the President and the Prime Minister, both with executive authority over the State and the government, which might take a while to settle down in an acceptable equilibrium before becoming effective — and hence the longer tenure. The parliamentary form of government is the most diffused in wielding authority and needs a considerable effort to forge concurrence between multiple stakeholders before a policy can satisfy most if not all. In a presidential system the President orders formulation and execution of his policies, except the monies required for such implementation is needed to be negotiated with the Congress. This provides for a balance of power and checks unbridled authority.

The primary task in a successful parliamentary form of governance is to forge a consensus. The PTI either doesn’t get it or doesn’t care for it. It thus fails in its primary function. That is why it doesn’t have much to show for other than perfunctory statements without a follow-up. The PTI must work the Parliament, the bureaucracy, stakeholders in the society and the economy, the judiciary and the administration to enact successful execution of policies and governance. At the moment most remain unattended in a performance which is mostly barren without a policy or a direction. Why can be an interesting inquiry but deem as if the government really never got on track. Law and order is innate to any administration. To claim it as policy is misplaced even if it relates to plugging holes through which money leaks. Policy in governance must be positive and salubrious to the purpose of the society. In cricketing terms no one ever won a match by felling opposing batsmen but only by taking wickets.

The Parliamentary system also suggests ways of displacing a government, and ordering one out or wishing one out aren’t among those. A government that just got its Budget passed by the Parliament is as good as the one sworn in with Parliamentary majority. Ousting one at such a moment is neither constitutionally provisioned nor democratically appropriate. It remains thus a travesty to toy with such a thought even if it be for non-performance. The talk of minus-ing one is retrogressive, undemocratic and unethical. It didn’t work against Nawaz Sharif; it will not work now. To remove a sitting prime minister through other means remains morally unsustainable and ethically manipulative.

Revert to the four-year tenure of American governments. It usually takes six months to fill in most positions in the administration while the last six months in a government’s tenure are taken up by electioneering and campaigning. That leaves three years of effective time available to all presidents to make their mark to vie for another tenure on the basis of performance. Three years. How much does the PTI have in the remaining time for it to perform and deliver? Three years. That is enough time to write another chapter of a party’s political tale even if the first came out empty and rhetorical.

The PTI is Imran Khan. No one comes close. Whether that should be the case is itself debatable and negates the very concept of democracy but that is how our current polity is composed and that is what we have to work with. And it isn’t that he is shorn of ideas; perhaps he has too many. It will help to focus on some of those and work them to completion. Were he to be minus-ed the PTI will lose its coagulating core and splinter or simply melt away. None of the pretenders carries the charisma before whom most will swear allegiance. The PTI is thus a party only with IK and will wither without him. Minus-ing him at this time in our national journey will engender a royal chaos. We can do without it. Instead we should let PTI exercise its mind and its politics.

There is so much which PTI can do but others can’t. One, the PTI isn’t from the political establishment which is akin to being from outside the Beltway — a universal euphemism for an outsider. IK’s troubles too emanate for being the outsider. He is non-traditional and doesn’t subscribe to a political creed which is essentially driven by parochial, familial and tribal than public interest. He isn’t as sworn against the military in public pronouncements as are other political players who anchor their credentials around this singular tenet of democratic belief. He may not belong to the ‘political’ establishment but he carries the support of the ‘establishment’ — a pseudonym for the military in Pakistan. Which really bestows a freedom of action unrestrained by any political compulsion on the PTI. While a traditional political party will tend to patronise others around mutually-gainful considerations — mostly at the cost of public interest, compromising own political probity — the PTI isn’t bound by such encumbrances. It never was knitted into a consensus of conduct as a political player. It has a liberty of action often ascribed to military governments which can undertake bolder initiatives without expedience being a restraint. With that kind of freedom sky is the limit when so much is distorted in our socio-economic domain.

Privatise, digitise, restructure, reform and rebuild. Whether it is the PIA, the Steel Mill, Railways, the pension system, the debilitating and anaemic power sector, digitisation and regularisation of the economy, tax collection and its methodology making it people-friendly at rates which become easily payable by the people. Break away from the conventional and antiquated even if familiar and forge newer pathways to shape the new economy and an informed society. If the PTI can break through its self-imposed ideational barriers, it will break out of the pack of ordinariness forcing others to lift their politics too. Without it we would only retard to the darker times. Be the leader you are known to be. If the team is bad, change the players. Of the Advisers and the SAPMs only a few deserve the mantle they are at. You can’t win with a team composed of twelfth men.

Play to your strengths. On opposition’s pitch one loses more often. Isn’t this the lesson from the Windies and from Australia? If you only save your wicket, you rarely build a score. It is time to break-free of the fear of the Coach and the Manager and express yourself. Don’t play for a draw; it is better to win or at least go down fighting. That will make a worthy loss. The time is now and you have the bat.


India’s Ladakh dilemma

By Dr. Talat Shabbir

As the senior commanders met for the second time since the beginning of the Ladakh crisis to find ways to ease the Himalayan tension caused by the China-India face-off, a large part of India’s strategic community and public suggested a befitting riposte. The tense face-off turned out to be the bloodiest since China and India went for a limited war over the same dispute in 1962. Since both sides seem to have taken up hardline positions over their territorial claims, the issue may potentially escalate to a dangerous limit.

The Ladakh face-off continues to remain unclear as there are claims and counter-claims by both sides. Indian media reports suggest that Chinese troops moved to what is considered to be Indian territory and crossed over to Indian territory, after India built several hundred kilometres of road that connected to an airstrip. The first confrontation took place in early May. China, as India claims, intruded several hundred kilometres inside Indian territory and occupied key posts in the Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Pangong Tso. The June 16 clash between the troops with wooden staves and nail studded clubs was the severest in decades that left 20 men dead including an Indian Army colonel.

There is a history of skirmishes and standoffs between China and India. Limited war in 1962, Nathu La and Cho La clashes in 1967, Tulung La killings in 1975, Sino-India skirmish in 1987, Daulat Beg Oldi incident in 2013, and Doklam military standoff in 2017, besides other confrontations and transgressions that have taken place between China and India along the long Line of Actual Control (LAC), over which both countries have overlapping territorial claims. As reported in a section of the Indian press, transgressions by Chinese military stand at 273, 426 and 326 in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively. This suggests that there is continuous confrontation on LAC by troops of both countries.

What are the lessons drawn? Some Indian analysts believe that there is “no conceivable solution to this problem” but there are, of course, some conceivable lessons or conclusions from the ongoing China-India standoff. First: India’s political leadership was found lacking in dealing with the crisis. Second: Indian military might stand exposed. Indian military leadership has somehow come to terms with its military inferiority. They have realised their inability to win an outright war with China and there is an obvious fact that China’s national defence budget stands at $261 billion which is almost thrice that of India’s $71.1 billion. Third: the China-India Ladakh face-off has created a divide amongst the strategic community and public. Those driven by nationalistic sentiment want a “befitting response” of humiliation caused at the hands of China while saner elements suggest “calm” as they think war with China would be an unwinnable venture. Fourth: territorial disputes may be shelved at some cost but must be resolved at all cost. Living with a flawed status quo or sitting over the dispute will only make matters worse. Fifth: territorial disputes are dangerous flashpoints and global powers must find an appropriate mechanism to address them. Sixth: confrontations over disputes give rise to nationalism which negatively impacts globalisation.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration struggles to regain what they lost on the political and military fronts, his Ladakh dilemma gets murkier, so do his foreign policy choices. PM Modi’s dream of spearheading the Asian century together with China has shattered, at least for the moment, with Ladakh showdown. Whatever may be the outcome of this confrontation, India has few myths broken and some realities exposed. For an aspiring regional power, there is a dire need to carry out comprehensive appraisal of its issues with China and other neighbours. Advice: When you decide to carry out a generous appraisal of issues, begin by first reconciling with your ego.


Removing and throwing away shackles of unhappiness

By Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan

To understand the significance of any problem or dispute, it is said that one must first understand its history and origin. While journalists unfold the details and researchers dig out the truth it is the historians that visit the origins and enable us to understand the background and the roots. Obviously, transition of a state is not a small subject and that doesn’t happen in days but the nations that evolved, changed and transited left behind a history, the study of which helps us understand the factors that influenced the outcomes of their national and state transition.

It is in this context that I recommend Jared Diamond’s 2019 book Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change. The book presents the case study of Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany and Australia. These case studies reflect how these countries evolved and changed for good or worst only because the leadership made the kind of decisions it made and how they were implemented.

One is particularly saddened to see the flurry and urgency with which currently the opposition in our country is trying to create a mountain out of every mole and build political pressure to end the over 20-month-old Imran Khan’s government. What we fail to understand is that our immediate past, our history has run through different significant cycles of eight to ten years which had its consequences spilling over to the next cycle. The first cycle was Gen Zia’s rule, the second the democratic decade of 90s, the third Gen Musharraf’s rule followed by the last cycle of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif’s government and their rule from 2008 to 2018. Gen Zia’s rule was followed by change in our ideology, our way of life. The immature democracy of the 90s gifted us political and institutional showdowns and unending democratic instability. Gen Musharraf’s tenure dragged us into fighting yet another war, ours or somebody else’s we still don’t know as the debate rages on.

Politics and our democracy’s true hopes rested on the last cycle wherein democratic governments completed their respective five years tenures but what the country got in return was not development, growth, evolution and progress but deterioration, regression and lapse in every public and private sector. What the champions of democracy did with this country in one decade (2008-2018) is best expressed in the answer that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of America, gave to a woman who asked him: “If the nation would be monarchy or Republic?” His answer was: “A republic if you can keep it.” In a republic, a government rules through the people and their elected officials, in a republic the country is not ‘the personal property’ of the rulers but a ‘public matter’. Both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari ‘couldn’t keep the republic’, their treatment of this country was as if it was their own personal property and they treated it as such.

Nothing damaged this country more than the opportunity missed by democracy in the cycle of our history from 2008-2018. The military had backed off and it was up to the politicians to take the right step forward and right decisions to build a homogeneous democratic front to tackle all our internal and external difficulties.

What the leadership does with these cycles of history is very important because the strain and consequences of their actions as well as their inactions follow up in the next cycle. It is in this context that I fail to understand why the ‘creators of current cycle’s consequences’ are allowed to sit down, laugh, lament and condemn the current government. Is there something wrong with us in understanding our founding principles that we endure and withstand such political mediocrity? Do we deserve these ‘Arnab Ranjan Goswamis’ of our political parties shouting out loud in inconsequential political contests, debating on problems that are of their own making?

Written and enshrined in the American declaration of independence is the peoples ‘right to pursue happiness’ and that right is guaranteed by the state by creating an environment in which ‘a person’s fate will only be determined by his character and talents’. Come top down and have a good look at our political leadership and their political appointees and sincerely answer this question: Do you find both talent and character here?

What they have done to this country! If God forbid, they, by some misfortune, were made the founding fathers of our nation, all they would have ended up writing would be people’s ‘rights to pursue sadness’. Why not? Not talent and character but favoritism, nepotism, prejudice and political preferences guide their decisions. The despotism, pessimism and sadness that they have promoted in our society is unforgiveable. The dilemma is not that they did what they did. The actual dilemma is that such is our rotten political system that despite having done that they continue to still politically exist and survive.

I was ashamed when I heard the speaker of Punjab Assembly speak against the construction of a temple in the capital. Our founding father wished a country where all citizens could exercise their freedom of choice and liberty and regardless of their religion could be treated as Pakistanis with the state protecting all their rights. What have these politicians made of our founding fathers’ state? What have we done to ourselves and our independence?

The American Revolution and struggle of independence unlike us and Indians was not against the British alone. It was directed against a European age which Americans considered was founded on ‘oppression and inequality’. Against such an order they created and posed liberty and equality as their guiding principles to bring about a dramatic shift in the history of humanity. Do we lack such principles or do we lack a leadership unwilling to understand these principles?

The complete nation joins hands with the opposition to lament the minister of aviation for creating an ‘aviation storm’ and facilitating the banning of our national airline and it ravel abroad. I ask why not? Why are we so afraid to speak the truth? Credibility is what we always lacked and that is the reason that the world stopped listening to us. We must clean our mess and put our house in order regardless of the consequences as the rot has gone too deep.

We elected legislature after legislature to form an executive. We created a ‘breed of legislatures’ who are unqualified to legislate and who through legislature only seek to exercise and execute executive power. The parties they belong to are good at doing politics but have little policymaking to show.

Our parliamentary system has outlived and outgrown any good that it can do. It actually rots and is crying out loud that ‘I am unsuitable and primarily responsible for most of the principal political ills that you suffer’. Does anyone have the courage to read that message and give this struggling country a political arrangement that ‘permits decisive action’?

The Americans have their ‘right to life, happiness and pursuit to liberty’. Our founding father gave us also our path line too — unity, faith and discipline. We could further add love, duty, magnanimity and charity only if we had the character to live up to the ideas of our founding father and also the talent to think of more and practise them in our daily lives.

Lacking character and talent we have become a very unhappy lot. Let’s recreate character and let’s recognise talent. Only then we will be able to remove and throw away our shackles of unhappiness.


Covid-19: Pakistan’s magic hat of numbers?

By Dr. Rana Jawad Asghar

The first lesson for public health officers for risk communication in any epidemic is to “develop trust” — with the media and the community. You need to be the first to share news, be transparent and truthful. Once you lose this trust, it takes ages to recover. Community and media engagement is a cornerstone of pandemic control strategies. Pakistan’s government numbers have always been doubtful for many reasons even beyond the health sector. The lack of our interest in numbers is because of our failure to understand the value of data. Also, true numbers are our work’s report card. The higher you go the less you would like to know about your failures. For most of us data means some pretty graphs in a report and nothing more.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s health sector has very few reliable numbers. That means it is developing strategies in the dark hence our interventions mostly fail even with good intentions. Lack of true numbers is bad in any decision making but it’s an issue of life and death in a pandemic. I have witnessed senior health officials all over Pakistan trying to underreport cases and deaths as they will be judged only on the reported numbers and not how they controlled the outbreak. Health officials and even administrative offices have been suspended or transferred only because they reported cases or deaths. So now many top officials across Pakistan pressure their juniors to report fewer cases of any reportable disease. In the dengue outbreak in Islamabad last year, some senior officials were thinking on the same lines but when we objected to hiding any numbers, Dr Zafar Mirza supported our position. That resulted in a quick culmination of outbreak even when Islamabad alone was reporting around 800 cases daily. Knowing the full scale of cases in a geographic area is a critical component in outbreak control strategy. But the bigger the epidemic the less pressure high officials could take.

I am one of the only few who did not agree that Covid-19 will bring a doomsday scenario in Pakistan. I based my analysis on our age distribution and other factors to predict less mortality and morbidity as compared to the West. My own initial analysis showed that we will see a decline in May/June even when everyone else was predicting peaks in August or later with greater devastation. So, I should be happy to see the daily case numbers and test positivity rates dive. But I am not happy to be proven right because something is not adding up. In the past week, Pakistan has decreased its daily tests by more than 30%. But strangely we also had an almost 30% drop-in case positivity rate. These two numbers have an inverse relationship to each other. As countries have scaled up their daily test numbers, they have been able to bring case positivity rates lower and better handled their outbreaks. The countries who are doing less testing have a higher positivity rates and unable to control the outbreak. It seems Pakistan has found some unique strategy to bring both down. In times of a pandemic this strategy should be shared globally for other countries could also do fewer tests and still control the outbreak and save economies. Pakistan’s outbreak was supposed to peak and come down in these days but don’t undermine the sanity of true numbers right now. If we are not making up numbers then we need to pay more attention on how to get real numbers. It’s not about bringing down the current spike but it’s also the only option to keep a lid on future spikes. Please look at both US and Iran epidemic curves so not to repeat the same mistakes. Numbers don’t lie but those who collect them could, and do.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5, 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *